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Cover photo (above): Frazier Haney / The Wildlands Conservancy

The Wildlands Conservancy announced its completion of a 16-month endeavor to permanently secure a crucial piece of private land surrounded by Bears Ears National Monument.

320 acres in size, the Cottonwood Wash property serves as an access point to thousands of acres of the 1.3-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument.

The property is essential as a hub for a variety of purposes, including cultural site stewardship, restoration, education, research, hiking, and more. As such, conserving the privately-owned Cottonwood Wash property is critically important for stewards to properly manage Bears Ears.

The site itself is also important as a rich natural area. Its biodiversity is remarkable, with a spring-fed pond, hanging gardens, and riparian zone along Cottonwood Wash that provide habitat for endemic flora and a spectrum of resident and migratory bird species.

“As soon as we stepped foot on the property and recognized its incredible importance, we were dedicated to saving it,” said Frazier Haney, executive director of the Wildlands Conservancy. “While it is surrounded by Bears Ears, the property was drawn out of the monument’s boundary, so acquisition by a private organization is the only real way to see it permanently protected.”

On December 28, 2016, President Obama exercised his power under the Antiquities Act to establish Bears Ears National Monument. This culminated after years of unified efforts by Tribal nations, preservation groups, archaeologists, and other interested parties.  An Inter-Tribal Coalition, comprised of Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Zuni Pueblo, Ute Indian Tribe, and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, led the way in advocating for the monument. The indigenous leaders continue in the management of the monument to this day, with the most recent cooperative management agreement signed in June 2022.

“The entire Bears Ears region is the ancestral landscape of the Zuni people,” said Anthony Sanchez, Jr., head councilman and Bears Ears commissioner for the Zuni Pueblo Tribe and representative of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. “We are a part of this place because our songs, prayers, and stories connect us to various landmarks across the region. We know our ancestors resided and traveled through here because various places, plants, and rock markings in Bears Ears are embedded in our cultural memory.”

cottonwood wash utah

Photo: Frazier Haney / The Wildlands Conservancy

The unified management at Cottonwood Wash and Bears Ears is a ground-breaking event both in Utah and nationwide, with a private nonprofit, Tribal nations, and the federal government all working together toward the same goal.

“Because of our unique model of permanent land stewardship that engages visitors and partners, our preserves benefit the public lands that often surround them,” said Dave Herrero, who will manage the preserve for the conservancy. “Over the last year, we’ve been working to cultivate relationships in the region and are humbled by the generous support from more than 200 organizations, foundations, and individuals, for not only the acquisition of the Cottonwood Wash property, but also the future stewardship of the land.”

The project’s momentum and support were amplified through the contributions of the Bears Ears Partnership, the town of Bluff, and its residents. The acquisition of Cottonwood Wash by the conservancy was facilitated by financial contributions from several sources, including the Kisco Cares Foundation, Earthwalker Fund, Alnoba Lewis Family Foundation, David Kelby Johnson Memorial Foundation, the Conservation Alliance, and Grand Canyon Trust.

The Center for Biological Diversity actively backed the conservancy’s acquisition of this property, marking their third collaboration in recent times. Alongside other conservation associations, the Center challenged the Trump administration legally to ensure the protection of Bears Ears and stood firm against Utah’s attempts to undermine the Antiquities Act.

The conservancy is now shifting its attention to ensuring the land’s security, establishing access for foot traffic, executing a plan for ecological rehabilitation, and working with local partners.

Learn about the Cottonwood Wash acquisition on The Wildlands Conservancy website here.

Jake Case

Jake is a naturalist, writer, and landscape photographer from Arizona. A geographer by education, he’s worked as a park ranger with the National Park Service, a tour guide at the Grand Canyon South Rim, and a docent at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West. Jake has seriously practiced landscape photography since 2009. You can learn more about Jake on the About page.

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